NBC's talk show wars seen as PR disaster for all

Fri Jan 15, 2010 6:00pm EST
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By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - NBC's late-night woes have become the biggest drama on U.S. television as comedians and TV executives trade increasingly bitter barbs in public.

With the struggling network still scrambling to sort out its failed prime-time experiment with host Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel have played out their talk show wars with Leno all week in what media watchers called a public relations disaster from which NBC could be slow to recover.

Senior NBC sports executive Dick Ebersol entered the fray on Friday, blaming O'Brien for much of the fiasco and telling the New York Times the on-air jokes against Leno were "chicken-hearted and gutless."

"It is a PR nightmare, not just for NBC but for Leno and Conan," said Todd Gold, managing editor of Fancast.com.

"What is most surprising is seeing this happen on the network that carries their shows," Gold told Reuters.

Media reports on Friday suggested NBC was close to resolving the mess. The Daily Beast said O'Brien would exit NBC with a large payout and be free to take a job elsewhere, despite reported threats from NBC that it would prevent him from working on a rival channel.

NBC, which is at the bottom of the big four U.S. TV networks in audience share, has made no official comment on the talks, which also reportedly put Leno back in his old job as host of the flagship "The Tonight Show."

The vitriol started even before NBC confirmed on Sunday that it would end in February the cost-cutting "The Jay Leno Show" in the 10 p.m. prime-time slot because of low ratings and a backlash from its local TV stations.   Continued...